My 30th Birthday | Sharing 20 Moments from my 20s, and 30 Things that I Hope for my 30s

It is my 30th birthday this week! To celebrate, I am looking back on some of the defining moments of my twenties and looking forward to what I hope for in the next decade of my life!

Oh my gosh, y'all! I am turning 30 this week! 

Adam has been joking with me for about a year now and he keeps telling me that soon I'll be able to join the "old folks" club like him. We often laugh about how much older we feel emotionally and mentally compared to our age, and we are just now starting to feel like our real age is finally catching up to us. Trivial things, like going out to bars or starting a movie at 8pm, are things of the past for us, and we have always joked that we feel like the old married couple out of all of our friends. 

I can't deny that I have been doing a little bit of reflecting these last couple of days, and looking back on some of the moments in my life these last 10 years that have left a lasting impression on me in some way, shape, or form. Our experiences absolutely mold the person we choose to become, and oftentimes that includes both the positive and negative moments of one's life. 

10 years used to seem like an eternity when I was much younger, but when I think back, I can vividly remember what it felt like when I was 20 years old and honestly it does not truly feel that long ago. But I do believe that I am a far more different (and hopefully more responsible, confident, and self-aware of my wants and needs) now than I was when I was turning 20 years old. 

To wrap up this decade of my life and before I usher in the new one, I wanted to look back over 20 moments in my life thus far that shaped me in some way while I was in my twenties!

#1 Got a tattoo

While it was not my first tattoo, which I got after high school, I made the decision to get a matching tattoo with my mom which was my second tattoo--a ladybug on my finger. For many years, my mother and I have associated ladybugs with one another. This was such a special day for the two of us, and during our winter break, we are even contemplating going out to get another tattoo. 

#2 Had my artwork shown in a gallery

While I was studying at Arizona State University getting my degree in education, I was involved in many activities outside of my classes such as marching band, sorority life, community service, and photography. I was publishing my photography on Tumblr and in ASU photography groups on Facebook, and I was hand picked by a local gallery in Gilbert to have an editorial I did featured and shown in their art gallery. Adam flew out from Vermont to visit and support me that night, and it was one of my favorite moments at ASU!

#3 Performed at the Super Bowl

I am almost certain that I have mentioned this a few times on the blog before, but while I was at Arizona State, I was a member of the Sun Devil Marching Band my freshman year. While I was a freshman and in the color guard, this happened to be the same year that Phoenix was hosting the Super Bowl. 

The band was invited to perform in the pregame show, as well as help on the field during the halftime show with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. This was an incredible experience that I will surely never forget, but it also haunts me since I was there watching my beloved New England Patriots lose (so it's actually a rather emotionally conflicted memory that I have since I had so many high and low moments that day!) Below is a photo of me from one of our ASU home games--not the actual Super Bowl--since the photos that I have from that day are really fuzzy and taken by my mom from very far away. 

#4 Became published

In addition to having my artwork shown in a gallery, I was fortunate enough to have my photography chosen and published in a book of original works from Arizona State University students. 

While I do not have any pictures of the book, nor can I seem to find it online, I was able to find a small digital copy of one of the photos that were published. This editorial shoot that I did was with two of my friends from my classes, and while I cannot help but laugh at how much my style of photography has changed, this photo brings up a lot of fun memories for me. 

#5 Graduated from college

I am proud to say that I graduated summa cum laude within 4 years of starting my studies.

In-between the extracurriculars I did outside of my classes and student teaching, I spent a great deal of time outside of the classroom pursuing marching band, my sorority, community service, and my love of the arts. While I am in debt, as almost all college students are, I am proud to have had the experiences that I did and how I was able to pursue my dream of moving far away, making friends who are more like family and falling in love with the city that I have always felt the most 'at home' in.

#6 Swam with a beluga whale

For my graduation gift, my mom took me to Seaworld in Orlando so that I could come face to face with my absolute favorite animal of all time! It was one of the coolest (and also kind of scary) experiences of my life! Coming face to face with a beluga whale was magical and strangely horrifying. I have always found them to be so adorable and loved learning about them as a kid, so my mom thought she would treat us to a hands-on experience meeting and training with a baby beluga. Having the experience of putting on a wetsuit, getting in the water, touching, kissing, and training this baby beluga was one of the most surreal moments of my 20s. 

#7 Married the love of my life

It should come as no surprise that marrying this handsome man makes it on my list! My number 7, my good luck charm, Mr. Mini has brought me so much joy, support, laughter, and helped me be a kinder, stronger, and more patient woman. Check out some of our wedding day details here

#8 Started my first small business

All my life, I have had family members, friends, friends of the family, and complete strangers tell me that I am a natural with a camera. And I truly enjoy taking photos and editing them (it's something I still do every single day, and I will probably continue to do it for the rest of my life even if it's not my job). After spending some time working up a portfolio of work while in college, I decided it was time to try to make a living with my creativity and I started my first small business: Cathy Lee Photography. 

This photo below is from my favorite bride and groom I worked with--I did both their engagement photos and their wedding day photos. They were both very down-to-Earth people whom I had no prior relationship with, and when it came to supportive strangers, these two take the cake. Denise, my bride, was such a sweet woman who had the nicest and more encouraging words for me. The wedding itself may not have been the most expensive or glamorous, but experiencing the love and kindness between these two and their families was such a memorable moment for me as a photographer.

#9...and then called it quits

After being threatened by a bride and her father, being yelled at by family members, and having more than one issue with "family friends" trying to take advantage of my failing small business, I decided to call it quits and stopped working as a freelance photographer for portraits, graduation photos, engagements, weddings, and family shoots. 

Don't get me wrong, I met many wonderful people. But I had more negative experiences than positive ones, and I no longer was able to fund our bills or find any joy in having a small photography business. 

So long, Cathy Lee Photography. 

#10 Got fired

Well, "let go." But this burn took a lot of time to heal. Additionally, this was literally the exact same day that Adam was let go from his job as a temp at a collections agency...and it was a week before Christmas. Needless to say, this was the worst Christmas to-date and it made for a very challenging moment during our newlyweddom (which ultimately lead to our big move). 

#11 Made a 2nd, big, scary, and a life-changing cross-country move

After I graduated from Arizona State, I moved back to Massachusetts to be with Adam. But this was not the big, scary move that I am referring to. 

We got married a few weeks later, and things only got tougher for us. Financially we struggled, and ultimately, we dealt with some really hard decisions that needed to be made. We were both unhappy in our jobs, or lack thereof, and after I got a job working from home for Apple, we had enough stability to ultimately make the biggest decision we have ever made together. 

Feeling as though we never had a fair shot at starting our new life together on the right foot, we decided we needed to take responsibility for our own happiness even if it meant leaving behind our hometown. For the most part, with the exception of his 1 year studying in Canada, Adam had spent his entire life living in New England including while he was studying to get his degree. While our families struggled to watch us go, we reassured them that this was what was best for us. Looking back, I am so thankful that Adam was willing to take a chance and leave his life in New England behind to start a new life with me here in Phoenix (a city that I had grown to love, and I knew in my heart was the right place for the two of us to live). 

This blurry, horrible photo of our first thrift store mattress on the floor of our Mesa apartment may not look like much, but it changed everything for us and we would not be where we are in our relationship had we not left Massachusetts.

#12 Started my 2nd small business

Well, it did not start off as a business. But when my hobby of blogging garnered thousands of loyal readers and social media followers, I began to get the attention of marketing agencies and blogger networks and began using the blog to make money. Over time, and the more gigs that I got and then how marketing agencies put my posts on Facebook and paid to have them promoted, I gained more readers and I got to the point that I was working two full-time jobs. One job I loved since it allowed me to have creative freedom, and one job I was falling out of love with and ultimately lead to my decision to leave.

#13 ...and then quit my corporate job to go full-time

Leaving Apple was a tough decision in only one regard--financial stability. 

I was working in the corporate world, with a great 401K, and comfortable in my position with near-perfect stats. But at the end of the day, it simply was not enough for me. While I could manage to work at Apple for my 'day job' and then have the creative side job of running my blog, things were great! But then the opportunities for the blog became larger and more frequent, I got to the point where I had to make a decision and choose one over the other. Adam has been supportive of my choice to leave my corporate job to pursue freelancing full-time since day one, and I am so thankful that he has had faith in me to know that I am a hard worker and that I could make it happen!

#14 Identified my disorder

I have dealt with overeating my entire life, and I have always kind of known that there was an emotional reason for it. Seeking help, doing some self-reflection, and coming to grips with my binge-eating disorder and knowing what triggers it are all things that I have done to try to get better. 

For years, the biggest focus on the blog was food recipes. For those of you who have been following us for a while, you may have noticed a shift and have seen fewer and fewer recipe posts (and one of the reasons is with my binge-eating disorder in mind). Having excessive amounts of food in front of me is not conducive if I am dealing with anxiety or negative emotions. Moving forward, I will continue to work to focus on keeping more control on my enivornment and working toward being a healthier person (both physically and mentally).

#15 Visited a new country

Technically, I have visited two new countries this decade. While I do intend to travel more over the next 10 years, making it outside of the United States was something I wanted to do at an affordable cost. Adam and I drove from Massachusetts up to Canada, and we stayed in Montreal for the weekend exploring where he studied abroad and he took me to the clubs that he and his buddies would visit. For the blog, I also had a chance to travel down to Mexico and brought my good friend and amazing blog assistant, Olivia, with me to do a project for the Puerto PeƱasco tourism board. 

#16 ...along with quite a few other new places!

Adam and I have made an effort to travel more and blog about it, which ended up landing some really incredible travel writing collaborations for us over the last couple of years. There are so many wonderful places we have visited, and if you have a moment, I encourage you to browse through our 'travel' section of our blog to see some of our favorite adventures we have documented on the blog. 

#17 Pet a moose (and saw them in the wild)

One of my favorite things about visiting Alaska, outside of visiting with my mom, of course, is having the chance to spot moose! During one of my trips up to Anchorage, I had a chance to review and write about the Alaska Railroad. Seeing the moose in the marsh on the way up to Fairbanks and in and around Denali was incredible! I also had the chance to pet a moose when I visited one of the Alaska animal rescue spots where they care for and nurture injured animals before releasing them back into the wild. Like my experience with a beluga whale, it was alarming to see just how large a moose was up close and it was totally cool to be able to pet one of these beautiful animals!

#18 Flew in a hot air balloon

I am afraid of heights, so naturally, I thought it would be fun to ride in a hot air balloon! Ha!

Well, not exactly. My friends at Toyota USA have been so fun to work with over the years while we have been reviewing cars, they invited us to join them in Albuquerque to attend the International Balloon Fiesta and celebrate the Toyota Corolla's 50th Anniversary in style! We went with a group of journalists and bloggers from all around the Southwest, and we made a road trip to the Balloon Fiesta in our own Toyota Corollas and on the morning of the fiesta we all hopped in a balloon and took flight! It was amazing, beautiful, and then surprisingly not too crazy (that is until we technically 'crash landed' at the end even though we were all fine and no one got hurt). 

#19 Rode in a helicopter

If you remember from a few seconds ago, you would know that I am afraid of heights. And yet, here I am facing my fears yet again while riding in a helicopter! Although I will say, I felt significantly safer in the helicopter than I did in the hot air balloon (and that is not just because the helicopter didn't crash land). Riding in a helicopter in Sedona was remarkable, and for the number of times Adam and I have made the road trip up there from Phoenix, it was incredible to get a new perspective of the city. I absolutely plan on riding in a helicopter again, and I am hoping that Adam will join me in the next one. Here is a video I made for Instagram for it: 

#20 Experienced true loss of a loved one 

I have been fortunate to not have lost too many family members due to death, but for the ones I have lost, it has been so painful. 

The death of my uncle Robbie was hard on me, and to be frank, I did not want to handle my grief around family. Admittedly, I fled. Details aside, our family became broken without him since he was a central part of our family unit. With Robbie gone, our family felt more dysfunctional than ever, as he was always the comic relief we leaned on when tensions were high (and with our family, that was always the way). He was one of the few family members who never second-guessed me wanting to move my life to Arizona to go to school--"go get em, girlie." He also went to a large university and left his hometown to go to school, so really, he was the only person I could talk to about moving to Phoenix to go to ASU who truly understood what I was going through.

Years later, after Adam and I moved to Arizona, I got a call one morning. My mom called me to tell me that grampa, her father, had passed away. My grampa Bob was a scrappy guy who had already been suffering physically but making the best of it. After his death, my mom and I got together for a visit and we celebrated his life as we know he would have wanted us to do. My grampa's life achievements continue to inspire me even though he is no longer with us here, and I truly miss talking to him all of the time.

Experiencing loss in my twenties has helped me reinforce the importance of living my life in the moment, and not taking any moments with friends and family for granted.

As for my thirties, I can only hope that the next ten years of my life will be as emotionally rewarding and offer me the opportunity to better myself as a person. Although I am unclear about the future, I do have some fantasies when I try to see into the future and what I can hope my life will have looked like when I am at this same point ten years from now and looking back on the last decade. Here are 30 things that I hope for myself or hope I can experience throughout my thirties: 

30 things that I hope for my thirties

-Become a dog mom
-forgive family members
-reconnect with old friends
-travel to a new country with Adam
-pay off more of my debts
-pay off our car
-provide more for others
-get back into community service (like with the sorority)
-brush up on my Spanish
-see a Shakespeare play at the Globe
-have a glass of wine in Napa Valley
-drink a margarita in Mexico
-go skinnydipping
-camp at the Grand Canyon
-drive across the country
-be a healthier person
-get back to a healthy BMI
-go parasailing again
-go to Ireland
-be a better friend
-travel with my mom
-spread my grampa's ashes in St Maarten
-invest in a new business (whether it is my own or someone else's up and coming)
-purchase property
-develop a budget (and do a better job of sticking to it)
-get a 2nd dog
-learn how to sew
-go on a girls' trip
-be able to provide for loved ones
-maybe go skydiving ("maybe" being the operative word)

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  1. I hope your 30's are as amazing as your 20's were! That is one tough decade to follow with everything you did, but I'm sure you'll make it happen!

  2. I want to swim with a beluga whale. Sounds like you have had a lot of fun adventures along the way.

    1. Definitely some really incredible experiences and I'm so looking forward to see what my thirties have in store!

  3. I know we don’t talk as much anymore, but I am so happy and proud to have been in the sidelines of your journey from sorority sisters to apple coworkers and beyond. You inspire me to pursue my dreams and aspirations!

    As for your goal to develop a budget in your thirties, I highly recommend checking out Dave Ramsey’s book “Total Money Makeover”. Granted, my husband has gone a little crazy with the Excel spreadsheets lol, but Dave’s budgeting tips have been life-changing!!

    1. Christine!! <3 Thank you so much! I have heard that Dave Ramsey's great for budgeting, and will definitely look into it. I appreciate you!

  4. Happy soon-to-be-30! How awesome that must have been to perform at the Super Bowl! I never knew that! You have learned and accomplished so much in your 20's! That is a lot to be proud of. I can't wait to see what you accomplish in your 30's! It looks like you have some wonderful goals.

  5. You have done so much before 30. I want to make a 30 before 30 list for myself...

  6. Looks like you had an amazing span of twenties years overall! You have done so many amazing things and others that helped to shape you! Cheers to a happy and safe span of 30's.

  7. You did so much. Congratulations. Do you have any videos from your performance at the Superbowl. That is so dope. Wow! at your artwork being shown in a gallery. You are bold. I'm too chicken to get a tattoo and I just turned 40. Happy birthday to you. May you experience many, many more blessings!

    1. My mom has a video that she did and it's hilariously bad haha! Thank you! Also, with the tattoo, my mom didn't get her first one until her 50s!

  8. I love your lists and the idea of making lists associated with your age. I believe I will be doing that this year. Thanks for the idea.


  9. I want to swim with a whale. It sounds sooo cool! Sounds like you have had a lot of interesting experiences!

    1. It was cool and immensely intimidating. I underestimated how large even the babies are!

  10. Toni | Boulder LocavoreDecember 17, 2018 at 8:43 PM

    Wow! Really amazing accomplishments! Thanks for sharing all these!!

  11. Happy birthday! I am so glad that you dis all these wonderful and interesting things. I hope you will do all the other 30!

  12. You share so much of yourself here but I learned a lot about you in this post! You've had so many incredible, and hard, experiences in your 20's. My daughter and I are going to SeaWorld on a little girls trip this week where we'll be swimming with beluga whales for the first time. She is finally old enough for the experience and she is so so excited!

    1. Thanks, Heather! <3 Hope you have so much fun!

  13. Oh wow! You had one of the most exciting 20's I've ever heard of. My 20's were not nearly that exciting. With your personality, I just know your 30's are going to be even more amazing.

  14. It is good to reflect on our past. Always better to plan and live life going forward always. Best wishes for your 30’s

  15. Happy Birthday! You've had so many fabulous experiences. Here's to many more. I have no doubt you'll complete the 30 by 30 list.

  16. It’s always good to look back and see what worked and didn’t work and then make changes for the future. Kudos to you for having the guts to let go of some things and pursue others!

  17. Your 20s are truly great because you grow into your identity! Your 30s, well I am not really far into mine, so I can't tell you much other than I just feel the most secure in my skin than I ever have!

    1. This is exactly what I have been hearing from so many people!

  18. I love this post - so much to look forward to in your 30s.

  19. What a list of ups and downs! Here's to getting through that list in your 30's!

  20. This is such a great way to relive some of your greatest memories while having a focus on the future. Awesome!

  21. Sounds like you had more ups than down. Wishing your 30th birthday brings you more joy and peace. May all your wishes come through!

  22. What a great way to look back on the years! I would love to do this when my 30th birthday comes around. Thanks for sharing!

    1. For sure! Hope you try it--it was an emotionally rewarding thing coming up with this list, and it felt sort of therapeutic after I finished it!

  23. So many amazing accomplishments in your twenties! Girl, you rock!! Looking forward to what your thirties have in store for you.

  24. I really enjoyed this. I think it's such a great self-reflection exercise. You definitely accomplished so much already and yet so much more ahead.

  25. aww, I love your positivity!! wishing you a wonderful and happy bir

  26. Sounds like a busy year, can just keep getting busier or slow down. No matter enjoy it!

    1. I have no intention of slowing things down! But I did get a good chunk of what I wanted to accomplish done and out of the way in my twenties while I still had all of my energy lolol

  27. Happy Birthday! I hope you had a magical 30th! What some amazing things you got up to in your 20s! Amazing memories to remember forever.

  28. I hope your 30s are even better than your 20s. One thing I can say is to live in the moment, no matter your age, because if you only look toward the future your miss out on the present.

  29. I love this so much that I might take the idea haha. I had to read it all. Congrats on all of your accomplishments

  30. Sounds like your year was pretty full of great memories. Once you get a tattoo you will want more!

    1. I definitely want another tattoo--just sorting out exactly how I want it!

  31. You did so much before you turned 30! You have accomplished so many awesome things.

  32. So much has happened and changed!!! There is so much good here that it outweighs the bad, tougher times. Happy Birthday!

  33. Amazing accomplishments! I actually used to work at Arizona State, so it was cool to see your pictures from the Super Bowl and graduation. You did a lot of amazing things in your 20s and your 30s are going to be just as amazing and more!

  34. It sounds like you have had an eventful life, and while not everything was wonderful, you learned a lot and I'm sure you are stronger as a result. I had a pretty crazy 20's, and now things have settled down a bit. How cool that you experienced so many things, from performing to swimming with belugas!

  35. Welcome to 30, it's great here! And wow! You had a very eventful 20s. Wishing you all the best, and Happy Birthday.

  36. Well, you've officially done more in 30 years than I have in 40. I hope you have a beautiful year. My 30's were my favorite!

    1. I keep hearing that most people prefer their 30s!! I'm so excited--thank you!

  37. You are going to love this post when you are 60. Trust me. :) I am impressed by all you have done and by your trials and tribulations. You are a rock star.

  38. How awesome! You have accomplished a lot already. Never stop dreaming and enjoy your 30's! Best of luck!

  39. They say that 30 is the new 20! Happy Birthday to you! Stay fabulous and enjoy it :)

  40. Sounds like you had a wonderful time in your 20's. It just gets better as you age (old folk talking here). Thanks for the graphs on the photography as my daughter is trying to break in to it. She is learning the ropes of it. One thing she has is that I told her don't let family take advantage of you and don't give them any discounts (Not even dad's friends).

    Have a good rest of the week.

    1. Thank you! Yes, photography business is brutal but feels so rewarding during its high points. For me personally, I had more negative experiences than positive. But I have a handful of really successful and happy photographer friends with small business who are doing really well. Just depends on the person and their personality I think! Good luck to her!

  41. Happy Birthday Cathy it has been nice getting to know you. Your photography is really wonderful. I wish you much success in your blog. Happy Holidays to you and Adam.

  42. Welcome to the 30s land and you're gonna love it, I have been on this side for a year and absolutely love. Good luck


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